The fallout of slaying No.1

What just one day can do to expectations.

Yes the Badgers executed pretty much the most quintessentially Wisconsin gameplan imaginable. Ground game rolling, winning the battle for “hidden yards,” making Terrelle Pryor look unbelievably terrible. The awesome post-game insanity commenced and Badger fans did what they’re most known for: drink heavily and cause mayhem across Madison.

Now the question is what comes next?

Well aside from a trip to Iowa, that part is obvious.

Suddenly the whole flow of the season has been redirected. At the start of the year there were questions. Can the Badgers live up to expectations? Can they get those surprising wins? The No.11 ranking loomed, as a reminder that this team, in some sense, should do more.

Then the Michigan State loss reset everything. The Badgers were back to the team that was always good but never had the spark of greatness. A team whose success was capped. Fans wailed of a purgatory of 9-3 and 8-4 seasons, a team that won only the games it should and predictably bowed out against the best. In truth it doesn’t seem like a horrible predicament, but to many who pour their emotions into the team each week it is the acceptance of such a fate they find so disheartening.

But now that whole perspective is wiped off the table.

The Badgers got their big win, and beyond the quality of opponent was the quality of dominance. Yes OSU clawed back into the game, but as soon as they did Wisconsin answered with back-to-back perfect offensive and defensive series.  It now delivers us to a delicate point, a moment that will in no way be reflected in the way we think about this year when it’s over.

I have this odd interest in the perspective of a particular instant that gets lost when looking back. This isn’t like looking back at a talented player and wondering why they fell short of what we expected. It’s looking back at the sense of optimism or despair in a given instant and seeing the irony that everyone at that point couldn’t. The example I use is the 1994 Golden State Warriors, who at the end of their final playoff loss were called one of the best up and coming teams in the NBA by whichever TV announcer was calling the game. They had the players and the youth to be that. Instead they missed the playoffs for 14 years, playing horrendous basketball season after season. There’s something tragic yet mystical about that quote from some TV guy, an imagined world where the Warriors really did inherit the league, frozen in some ESPN Classic game.

In a sense the sky is the limit because, well, Wisconsin just knocked off the No. 1 team in the land and the biggest bully of the Big Ten. But Iowa coming so fast sort of grounds expectations, fostering a wait-and-see attitude.

Right now there are four likely ways the regular season goes down (have to ignore bowls because they too complicated and people tend to remember the feelings of pre-bowl season).

UW wins out – with trips to Ann Arbor and Iowa City this isn’t particularly likely, but as of now it’s still possible. This is the dream. It almost guarantees the first BCS game of this decade and the first of Bret Bielema’s career.

The year would rank up with the best since 1993 and the OSU win would take on the role of turning point. It was then that a one-loss team found itself. Meeting and slaying the top team kicked off its end of season run.

UW loses to Iowa but wins out after – not quite as impressive, but it would mean the Badgers took care of business and finished a respectable 1-2 against the best of the conference (assuming the MSU bubble doesn’t burst). This probably won’t bring much more than a Florida Bowl, but ten wins isn’t something to scoff at.

Oddly as the team’s overall success diminishes the importance of Saturday’s win would grow. In this case the OSU win really is the high point of the season, something UW fans would still beat their chests about.

UW beats Iowa but then loses somewhere else down the line, probably at Michigan – A pretty good year because it shows any doubters that Bielema can in fact win the big game. This most likely ends with one of the New Year’s day Florida bowls. It won’t please everyone, but most will look at it fondly.

In this case the OSU game would sort of fuse with the Iowa game into a two-weekend stretch of dominance. Going into the new 12-team Big Ten, Wisconsin would be viewed as more of a threat, bloodying the noses of two powers back-to-back

UW loses to Iowa and adds one or more losses after that – Badger fans will find a new way to complain about Bielema “not getting it done.” Wisconsin keeps the bowl streak alive and we get one of those ok but not special seasons.

The season will be remembered in a large sense for Saturday’s win. Think back to 2003, the last time Wisconsin scored a win of this magnitude (against of all teams OSU). After that win they were looking great, but they fell apart down the stretch. A 7-6 season was closed with a depressing Music City Bowl loss. The only real memories for that year are Lee Evans beastliness and that majestic 17-10 win over OSU. Should UW falter badly in the last five games, 2010 will be remembered as “the year we beat the No. 1 Buckeyes” and not much else.

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